Whitewater rafting Part 2

For Part 1 (My Story) Click Here

Talk with a master:


Erik Allen has been kayaking for 21 years and rafting for 19. He has been a professional guide for 19 years. Erik’s respect for the outdoors is his platform for showing love for the two most important things in his life, his religion and his family. He is often seen with his wife and children hiking, biking and rafting.

“One of the things I’ll think about is how beautiful and awesome it is to be on the river. Spiritually, I analyze how amazingly beautiful it is,” Erik said. “We are blessed to live in the Sierra’s, which has rivers, canyons, and lakes. We are privileged to live where we do. We have world class river systems. There is a bible verse talking about how the mountains flow down to the river. You can see it right here.”

Erik suggests researching and finding a reputable guide and to “just go.” He says, “Everyone has horror stories, and sure boats flip over, but everyone is fine. The biggest injury is usually just a scratched knee. There are two things I look for when booking a company, which one has the best lunch and I appreciate guides that are respectful. I like the guides that watch their language. But some companies are all about partying.  Investigate before you hire a company. But just go. Don’t go with the cheapest company; you get what you pay for.”

If you are a first timer, Erik suggests starting with the South Fork of the American River. “Do the gorge, that’s my personal favorite. It’s a slam dunk. As you advance, try Coloma down to Salmon Falls and explore other rivers.” He goes on to advise, “Stay on class three. It’s just fun. At that level, you need to be able to pull yourself into the boat on your own. Don’t do class four as a beginner. If you fall out, you have a higher potential for injury.”

Erik gives a basic description of each class. He describes class one as still water. Class two he says if you fall in you can maybe get hurt, but it is unlikely. Class three has an increased possibility of injury if you fall out of the boat, but he still considers this a safer place to start. Class four, you could get really hurt if you fall out. Class five you risk serious injury or death if you fall out of the boat. “It’s all about an injury related element,” he says. “I’ve been on big exciting class two rapids, even more exciting than class 4.”


What to bring:

Attire: You can raft year-round with the appropriate attire.

Sunscreen: Always, year-round.

Shoes: Wear a sandal with straps. You cannot go barefoot or wear flip-flops. At a minimum, you need shoes or sandals with a heel strap.

The company should provide:

Lunch: Erik suggests researching what is provided for lunch in advance. He notes a correlation between reputable companies offering a good lunch.

Helmet: When you the read My Experience portion of my segment on Whitewater rafting. I illustrate why I will never again choose a company that tells me, “I don’t need a helmet.”


Self-bailing boat: The first time I went rafting the boat was not self-bailing. I am an optimist, I find joy in most situations. It takes a lot to make me grumpy. But having to continually pull the heavy boat off to the shore to lift it and tip the water out, just plain sucked. The second time I went the boat was self-bailing. It was a totally different experience.

For Part 3 (My Experience) Click Here

White Water Rafting part 1

My story:

People often confuse my love of adventure with a love of adrenaline. The two are not linked. I consider myself an endurance athlete. I enjoy the slow, steady and thoughtful pace of a 100-mile bike ride. I feel a calmness when exerting my mental stamina on a 5-hour run.  During these activities, I keep control of my movements. Adrenaline is a different monster. It is releasing control. White Water Rafting tested my ability to let go and have fun.

When I go on trips, I am the one who makes the itinerary. I like to ensure before my spontaneous adventures; every variable is accounted for (yes, I hear the conundrum in that statement). I have often described myself as stable, yet free-spirited. White Water Rafting was a fun way to let go and have the adrenaline rush I often deny myself.

My discomfort with the unknown often stems from my unstable upbringing. After kindergarten, I never started or finished an academic year in the same school until my freshman year of high school. Every year, during the middle of the school year, my parents (divorced) would shuffle me between them or move. It has given me a profound need for stability. I struggle to accept things out of my control. Whitewater rafting, travel, surfing all of these adventures have helped me let go of the past hurt and embrace that which is beyond my control.

Through my adventures I am learning even when I am not in control, everything still turns out fine. I encourage those of you who are like I was, those who like to hold on to things they should let go—to do just that—let go. Put yourself out there and have an adventure. Whitewater rafting was an exhilarating way to relinquish that control. At the start of my trip down the American River, I was a ball of nerves. I was terrified I would fall out of the boat. The first few rapids I closed my eyes tightly and just wanted it to be over, then it was. And I was disappointed. I wanted more. Soon when I came upon a large rapid, all I could do was paddle and hope the guide knew what he was doing, and he did. As each rapid passed, I became calmer and more relaxed. I started enjoying the thrill of feeling the boat go up and over the water. I couldn’t control the boat; I just had to let go and trust the process.

After many years I have come to that conclusion in life. Sometimes you just have to relax and trust the normal process.

For Part 2 (Talk with a Master and What to Bring) Click Here

For Part 3 (My Experience) Click Here

Surfing part 2

Part 2 of 2: Surfing. Click here for part 1 

My experience:

The first time I touched a surfboard, I was on vacation in Phuket, Thailand. I found an instructor on the beach named, Jimmy. A handsome import with an Australian accent. For $30 I was able to get a one-hour private lesson and gear rental (insanely low price. Thank you Thailand). It was the dry season, so the waves were infrequent and very small. Jimmy kept apologizing for the lack of waves. Personally, I thought it was perfect for a beginner. I was able to stand up several times on the board. The water was warm like bathwater. The waves were gentle and far apart. I only needed a rash guard. I was in Thailand during the dry season. I have heard, but not seen, during the wet season the waves are much more aggressive.

I loved surfing the moment I put my board in the water. I wasn’t just sitting on the beach and sticking my toes in the sand. I was finally an active participant in connecting to the ocean.

My second time taking lessons was in Pacifica, with Adventure Out. This time, I took group lessons. Though the instructors were knowledgeable, Pacifica was unrelenting and determined to show me waves aren’t always so gentle. I spent more time paddling to the instructor than surfing. I wore a wetsuit and surf shoes. It helped in the frigid water. The ocean only had to tell me once, do not put your board to the side (i.e., you do not want your board parallel to the waves. You want it perpendicular). I went in like a perfect amateur, board to the side. The waves pushed the board back into me hard.

I enjoyed my surf experience in Pacifica. It is close to where I call home. I will go back, but I need to regroup before I feel ready to brave the unrelenting waves of the northern California coast.

Most recently, I took a lesson in Tel-Aviv. An adorable teenage girl, who had been surfing since she could stand, fought through the language barrier to help me try to stand up. Early in the lesson, I felt a slight pain in my calf. I assumed when I fell off my board, and I had gotten a bit of road rash from scraping against the sand. I shrugged it off and continued surfing. After about an hour of falling on my face, a man in a red rash guard came up to me and said, “I am going to give you lessons until you stand up consistently.” I gratefully accepted. (Side note: I have said my greatest weakness is my own hubris. I pray to God to grace me with grace and a bit of humility. God answered my prayers. There are few things more humbling than falling over and over while next to a class of seven-year-old kids standing up like Kelly Slater.)

As the man in the red shirt helped me consistently stand on the board, we started talking. He told me to stop looking at my feet and start looking at a focal point. Instantly, I saw a vast improvement. He smiled at me and flirtatiously asked, “How old are you?”

“I’m 36, I’m too old for you,” I replied.

He looked at me proudly and said, “I am 22, I am old enough to be your husband.”

I laughed and asked, “So, how long have you been teaching surf lessons.”

He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Oh, I’m not an instructor.”

Thus, ended my surf lesson in Tel-Aviv.

Walking back to the beach I saw a woman crying hysterically as everyone crowded around her, she had a mark on her leg with a distinctive ring, saying a jellyfish had stung her. I looked down at my leg, which had not stopped aching from early in my lesson. I had the same ring. Excited I pointed my sting, and sounding both stupid and excited I said, “Hey I got stung too!!!” The ocean had finally initiated me.  The woman looked at me like I was an idiot and I sheepishly walked off.

One of the hardest things for me, living in NorCal is how people born and raised here, take it for granted. I despised Kansas before I entered into Kindergarten (once again, many people love the changes in seasons and the Midwestern charm. I didn’t). I couldn’t find a stretch of nice weather long enough for me to enjoy the outdoors. I didn’t have access to the ocean or mountains. Now, I live in the most beautiful place in the world. I love the pines of Tahoe; I love the splendor of Napa and the salt smell that rises from the ocean. When I meet people, California born and raised, they often tell me they have forgotten how lucky they are to live in such an awe-inspiring landscape.

I have been on a surfboard in Pacifica. There is nothing between the water and me but a piece of foam. I lay on the board in a paddle position, looking at the shore from a different vantage point. I love the taste of the salt water and the feel of waves.  In that moment on the board, waiting for the wave to come up behind me, I look at the people on the beach. I feel as if I am granted access to some special moment in life. A moment, too special and pure to articulate.  If you are not coastal, I suggest taking a few lessons on vacation. If for no other reason than to try something new. If you are coastal, born and raised, I suggest you go out on your surfboard. If it is for the first time or for the 100th time, look out at the horizon, look out at the beach and inhale. Breathe in your good fortune in living in the most beautiful place in the world.





Part 1 of 2

My story:

I always felt displaced in Kansas. I was born and raised in the sunflower state. I woke up at home, yet I never felt at home. Since I was four years old, I wanted to leave Kansas. Nothing within me loved my home state. I am not saying Kansas is a bad place. I know several people who love and embrace the beauty the Midwest has to offer. But, as no two states are the same, no two people are the same. I just wanted out. I would periodically ask my parents, “Why do we have to live here?” I didn’t know anything else; I just knew this didn’t feel right.

I went to an in-state college. I love my alma mater, but I wanted to go to school by the ocean, this was something I could not afford. I met my (ex) husband, fell in love and got married.  Eventually, he was offered a promotion in California. I couldn’t pack fast enough. After 34 years of feeling displaced, 34 years of dreading the ice storms of the winter, the humidity of the summer, the storms of the spring and fall—I was going to move to a state that would give me at least one solid season of beautiful weather.

My friends and family always told me, moving won’t change who you are or solve your problems. They were wrong. I wake up every day in love with California. I love that my child is living in the most beautiful place on earth.

Being from Kansas, I have always felt uninitiated to the ways of the ocean. Throughout my life, I went to the ocean on vacation. I knew when I returned home; I was leaving the crashing waves I loved and replacing them with endless fields of wheat and corn. I watched surfing on TV and never saw it in real life until I moved to California. It seemed like the most unattainable feat I had ever encountered—needless to say, I was on a board the first opportunity I could find.

I started surfing as a way of embracing my new home. It was the most ‘California’ thing I could thing I could imagine doing. And every time I get off my surfboard, I can only think, I can’t wait to do this again.


Talk with a master:

Joey Evans is an instructor with Adventure Out, a surf school in Pacifica. He teaches group lessons and estimates he has taught about 40,000 people how to surf. “My dad put me on a surfboard at the age of one. Sometimes I think I’ve been on the water more than I’ve been on land if you don’t count sleeping.” Joey went on to tell me, he first taught surfing when he was 16 and in college did competitive surfing.

Joey puts a big emphasis on safety. He states each surfer needs to know where the rip current is located, as well as the longshore drift.  He goes on to say, “Certain beaches have certain patterns. You want to study your beach. Reading the waves is like learning another language.”

“Surfing is about riding a wave, not standing up on a surfboard,” Joey said. “There is no pause button on the ocean. People get distracted. Choose a landmark and pay attention to how other surfers drift down the beach.” Joey goes on to advise, “Don’t line up where the pros go.” Beginners need to stay out of their way. They also never want to go to whitewater, and never hold the board sideways.

“When you fall, you want to fall like a starfish. Don’t dive. If you nose dive, you can fly off the board. After people fall a few times, they realize it doesn’t hurt to fall in the water. Cover your head when you come up from under the water because the board could hit you,” He said.

During our conversation, I told Joey, “Being from Kansas, I envision the ocean is teaming with sharks just waiting to grab surfers.” Joey laughed at me and said, “Vending machines kill more people than sharks. If you see a shark, it won’t necessarily attack you. Great whites like really deep water. So, beginners don’t need to worry as much.”

He ended our conversation with a cool story. He told me, “I lived out of my car for eight months traveling the California coast while taking online classes. I was able to take down waves all along the coast. I was doing grad school, so I was doing my papers. I typed my papers on an iPad. It was a fun adventure. You wake up the next day, and you just look at the surf report and decide where you are going to go next. I just went to where the waves are going.”

What do you need:

Lessons: Don’t rent or buy gear. You need lessons not just learn the basics of surfing but to also learn safety, currents, and wave heights. Joey notes most people do not know what they are looking for when it comes to safe versus dangerous ocean conditions.  Use this time with the instructor to learn surf etiquette. A good coach will teach weight distribution. The positioning is the more important part of being on a surfboard. Once you stay in the right spot, it is easier to stay on your feet.

Surfboard: After you take a few lessons, Joey suggests a 9ft longboard with a soft top.

Attire: Do you need a wetsuit or just a rash guard? Even the most favorable surf conditions need a rash guard. The wetsuit will not just protect from the sun but will also save you from getting scratched up as you move around on the board. Joey notes in conditions like the bay area; you will need a 4/3 wetsuit. Be sure to know the temperature of the water in which you are swimming.

Beaches: Look up beginner beaches. You don’t want to start where you can get injured. Check if the beach is rocky or sandy underwater. Research, know your potential to get thrown into the water. A good starter beach has a 1-3-foot beach break and a sandy bottom.

Click here for Part 2: My experience 


Burning Man Part 2

This is Part 2 of Burning Man for the first timer. If you would like to read Part 1 follow this link: Burning Man for the first timer: Part 1

The experience:

“What is Burning Man?” The generic answer is an art and music festival in the desert. This answer will get shut down by any veteran burner. The truth is, describing burning man is like trying to communicate the color green to someone who has never had sight—but I love a challenge. Therefore  I will try. Every year, 70,000 people commune in the desert to just be who they want to be. Everyone from CEO’s to drifter’s meld together in this mecca for self-expression.

During my first burn (2015), I spent a lot of time alone. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I wasn’t pressured to partake in drugs either. I didn’t engage in promiscuous behavior. I say this only because, burning man has a reputation for being a sex and drug-fueled party. One of the reasons I enjoy talking about Burning Man is because I want to remove the stigma it is just some party in the desert. To some people, it is just that. To most burners, it is so much more.

There are a few key concepts to understand if you want to go to burning man. The first is you need to be self-reliant. The goal is to attend burning man with everything you need. All your food, all your water. You can buy (with cash) coffee, tea, and ice at Center Camp. Other than that, expect to be on your own. If you forget your sunscreen, there is no Wal-Mart. If you are not staying in an RV (services are provided for a fee for water and sewage), then think about how you are going to go to the bathroom. Though there are porta-potties, few people find this ideal when they have to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. I suggest bringing a camping toilet. Solar showers are also surprisingly inexpensive and efficient for staying clean. Gray water, is the water that accumulates when you shower, brush teeth, dishes, etc. it is discouraged to allow this to accumulate. I like to bring a small inflatable baby pool to catch the shower water. There are no outlets or places for electricity. Take this into account when considering charging cell phones.  Last year, my setup was a large Coleman cabin tent, with a camping toilet. My burning companion, EDH (from part one of this series) rigged an umbrella pole from a patio set to hold up a solar shower. We put a baby pool at the base of the shower to catch the gray water. I brought a folding table and mirror for a vanity. That was our bathroom. It worked well.

If you have been camping, then food will be a simple concept. If you are not a seasoned camper look up quick and easy camping recipes. Bring as much food premade as possible. I have a camping recipe I like in my blog, Camping with Kids. I also get my favorites from restaurants and freeze them. Last year I got Pad Thai, put it in a ziplock bag, froze it, then reheated it on my camping stove. It worked out great! Another easy option, buy a whole pizza, put it in zip lock bags and have pizza to snack on.

Another fundamental concept is gifting. If nothing else, BM is a community. Do not be a drain on the community. Don’t go hoping to live off the gifting culture. The expectations of gifting for a first timer are small. Gifting can be intimidating. Do not overthink it. Some people go to thrift stores and find 10-20 pieces of wild clothing and hand them out. It is common to see people passing out a plate of homemade snacks or setting up a small lemonade stand. If you do not gift, that’s fine. No one is keeping track. But still, plan on attending self-reliant.

My favorite concept is radical inclusion. Bring your open mind or stay home. Burning Man is not a place for judgment. You will see self-expression in a whole new way. People will wear outrageous outfits; they will do marvelous things and all unapologetically. This is not a place for judgment.

My first year, I wanted to ‘costume right.’ I went online and looked at pictures of the various outfits. I attempted to recreate my favorites. I now see that is not how to do it. When costuming ask yourself, ‘if I could wear ANYTHING I wanted, what would I wear?’ Would you wear that Halloween costume that makes you feel sexy? Would you wear your old football jersey from high school? Perhaps nothing at all? The key is to wear what YOU want to wear. From my pictures, it is evident; I love wearing corsets and tutus. Shoes, do not play by the same rules. You want to be comfortable; I suggest boots.

Mainly, the BM experience is what you want it to be. There is a saying at BM, “Fuck yer burn.” This term isn’t meant as an offensive term. It means, “I am going to burn how I want to burn.” My first year I wanted to be alone a lot. I desired time to reflect on my recent divorce and my new-found independence. When people wanted to tag along, I had to stand up for myself and tell them no. My second year, I inadvertently really pissed off a camp. I had made plans to camp with them, but when I arrived the vibe didn’t feel right. They are all wonderful people, but I wanted more autonomy than being in a camp allowed. That didn’t hit me until after I had set up and been welcomed in. I could have stayed though it wasn’t how I wanted to burn. I chose to say, “Fuck yer burn.” I packed up and headed to the outer edges of the playa where it is quieter. When heading off to burning man, decide, what do you want to get out of this experience, because the answer to that is different for everyone. Stand by your choice and Fuck yer burn.

What you need to ask:

-Why are you burning? Are you on a spiritual journey? Are you there to party? To see the art and listen to music? No matter why you are going to burning man, you need to go on the burning man website and read the survival guide. These are not instructions from IKEA you can just toss, and Hail Mary you get it right. Burning Man is no joke, and sure as heck isn’t a backyard camping trip. If you run out of food or forget something— You might ruin your burn. Read the survival guide before you even consider buying a ticket.

-If you are headed to Black Rock City (AKA the location of Burning Man), first things first, where are you going to stay? The easiest answer is a tent. Unless you are already a hardcore, seasoned camper, I do not suggest this. The dust will consume everything in your tent, the wind is relentless, the nights can be near freezing and the days are scorching. A lot of people go to burning man, and they camp in tents just fine.  I consider myself pretty tough, and I wouldn’t even consider BM in a tent. Your best option is an RV or pop-up camper. Please know, many places have a clause stating you cannot take a rental to Burning Man. If you try, they will know. My car engine has playa dust in it from 2 years ago.

If you want to learn more about Burning

Step 1: Go to the Burning Man website and read the survival guide. If you read it and still want to burn then DO IT!!!!

Step 2: GET A TICKET. There are a lot of scams. The best way to get a ticket is through the main sale. If you cannot secure a ticket directly through Burning Man, then make sure you do not pay with cash. There are a lot of fake tickets circulating on the market.

Step 3: Accommodations.  If you have an RV or pop-up camper, you are ready to go. Otherwise, consider joining a Facebook group and getting hooked up with an established camp. Often for a fee or in exchange for work, you can find a place to crash.

After this, the rest is just details. Bring more food and water than you think you will need. I will not include a list of what you need as the survival guide provided on the site is fully inclusive.


Just go, burn. Once you are there, remember, there is no place like home.

Burning Man

My Story:

I have a profound need to actively engage in my own life. Whatever the hell that means. I am a doer. When I gain knowledge of something that interests me, I think, “Let’s go. Let’s do this.” I struggle with ‘someday people.’ I am the type of person that if someone says to me, “I have always wanted to go to Thailand,” I respond with, “Let’s pull out our calendars.” If that person looks at me sideways and simply says, “I’ll go someday,” you can bet money, they will never go. I heard about Burning Man from a friend. He tried explaining it to me; he tried showing me pictures. I still didn’t get it, but I wanted to. I kept looking at pictures and reading blogs on fire dancers and costuming. I thought this is something I need to do, to feel I have experienced the full range of life.

I have had the privilege of attending Burning Man twice. I went 2015 and 2016. Both burns were completely different experiences. As the point of this blog is to help inspire doing something for this first time, I will focus on my first burn.

The story of my first burn began in August 2015. I had started dating a man, let’s call him EDH. I had gone on three dates with EDH at the time, and I sat across from him quietly picking at my drink. “Have you heard of Burning Man?” I asked. “I think I am just going to go.” He gasped several times. He told me how he had wanted to go to Burning Man for over a decade. I smiled and said, “I’ll have to tell you about it when I get back.” I wanted this trip for me. I wanted to experience this on my own.

My first burn fell together so easily. I obtained a ticket (and didn’t get scammed) and accommodations came together for me in an RV. I went out and bought outrageous costumes, I joined multiple facebook groups, and I still had no idea what to expect.

I made the drive to Black Rock City with my car loaded up and butterflies in my stomach. I was greeted at the gates with a bear hug by a dust-covered man wearing only a kilt. He scanned my ticket and told me, ‘welcome home.’ Through those gates, I went on to have one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Every morning, I got up and rode my bike onto to the playa. I stopped at various tents and talked to people giving away coffee and wanting nothing in return. I rode my bike to the different works of art. Nights, I would ride from DJ to DJ dancing to music and meet new people. It was one of the most amazing and random experiences at the same time.

The most meaningful part of my first burn was my visit to the temple. The temple is a wooden structure. It is a solemn monument standing among the eclectic art. The temple is a quiet place for reflection. On the walls, you see tributes and memorials to people who have lost loved ones. I took a moment to write a note to my step-grandmother, in sharpie, on the walls of the temple. I told her I was sorry I didn’t try harder to visit her before she died. I then, sat alone under my writing and cried. I had never fully processed her death, or my guilt for denying her requests asking me to make the drive to El Dorado, Kansas to visit her one last time. As I cried, strangers came up and hugged me. One man looked at me and said, “I am just going to stand next to you, as a presence so you know you are not alone.” To me, that is burning man. That is radical inclusion. It isn’t the parting or the costumes; it is being accepted in your most honest form. I was sitting alone in the temple, wearing a rainbow-colored corset and matching tutu, bonding with strangers who wanted only to provide comfort in a moment of pain.

The majority of Burning Man is fun and games.  The city quickly becomes a community. Walking along the streets of Burning Man, I have stumbled across a full-on roller skating rink, twerking contests, dance parties and anything else the creative human mind can concoct. Last year a piece of a Boeing 747 was brought in and used as a lounge.  My favorite camp is near center point. Every morning a group of people come together and hand out freshly baked focaccia bread and mint tea. It is a place to relax and socialize. My favorite event every year is the French Toast and Lingerie party. Wear your favorite outfit and get served some yummy french toast.

Burning Man is a place for people to go out and be their most authentic self. It is amazing how natural it feels to dress in wild costumes and hop on and off wild artistic cars. I acclimated quickly to all of the quirkiness around me. Decompression, as it is called (coming home after burning man) can be a rough transition. You go from wearing clothing that makes you feel expressive, to wearing what the latest magazine tells is trending. After seeing people put so much time and energy into creating transportation illustrating their personality, you return to the real world of silver and white cars all looking the same. It can be a bit sad for people. That is why you will hear so many people refer to burning man as home. And from one burner to another I can tell you, there is no place like home.

Master of Burning Man:

David Bell is a veteran burner. He has burned 12 times and heads Camp Shrunken Heads. To prepare for my first burn, I joined a local facebook group and was quickly put in contact with David Bell.  When I asked David for his number one piece of advice is for a first-time burner he said, “Don’t worry about the bullshit, you can buy ice and melt it for water. Just get a ticket and get your butt down there. Mentally you have to be tough. People can be assholes in the desert just like in the city. It’s not nirvana. I always sleep inside my car. I had a spare tent, but it got run over by a drunken dinosaur.”

“Burning Man is no one thing. It is a self-fueled art expression festival. The point is seeing the people. We are all so fucking scared in life. In America, we are scared shitless. At Burning Man, you get to relax and play.” I asked him how he responded when people ask about the sex and drug aspect of Burning Man. “It definitely has a lot of adult shit. You aren’t going to be walking down the street and have someone ask you if you want drugs, but they are definitely there.”

*Please note that some pictures are from 2015 and others are from 2016

**Click here for Part 2: Burning Man for the First Timer


Death Ride

My experience:

If you ask me what compelled me to ride 129 miles and climb over 15,000 feet all over five passes, I will answer you honestly: To prove to myself I could. Shortly after I bought my road bike, in April 2015, I was at a karaoke bar waiting on a few friends. While I was waiting for a table, I started talking to a group of cyclists. They told me they were training for something called ‘Death Ride.’ I was in awe. It was as if they were speaking in a language I couldn’t understand. I daydreamed how it would feel being a part of the pack that finished all five passes.

I did my triathlons I took some time off from my bike over the cold NorCal winter (something I am embarrassed to say, having been born and raised in the Midwest). By the time Death Ride sign ups posted online the furthest I had ridden was 50 miles, so I did what any adventurer new to cycling does, I signed up for one of the hardest rides in America.

Most people train for years before they attempt Death Ride. I had six months. (If you take nothing else away from this blog—do not—DO NOT—do what I did. I am so lucky I wasn’t hurt or even killed. This blog is not a training plan. It is my story and some tips for what to expect.) I had no technical experience. I had NEVER done anything that resembled real distance or climbing, and I had no training partners. I found a few experienced riders who took pity on me and eventually through coincidence started training with the SAME GROUP I had met in the karaoke bar right after I bought my bike.

To date, Death Ride is the hardest and most intense thing I have ever accomplished. It is the only event I honestly questioned if I could finish (due to time constraints). But I finished, and the moment I knew I was going to finish, I cried. I cried is not expressive enough. I was hysterical. Snot was dripping from my nose. I was heaving; people were asking me if I was okay. At the top of Carson, you are given a pin to show you completed all five passes. The man who pinned my jersey could tell this was my first time. I was full of pride. I was in an elite club.

People often ask if I will ever do Death Ride again, to which I respond, “I think I proved my point.”

Talk with an expert:

Rod Halbert is a Level 2 USA cycling coach and owns and operates Phoenix Cycling Systems with his wife, Kristy. Rod has participated in Death Ride fourteen times. “As hard as you train, you will never know how hard it is until you do Death Ride,” Rod said confidently as he sat in his cycling studio. His wife Kristy nodded as he continued, “It’s no joke. Everyone wants to quit their first time.”

Every year Rod leads a group of experienced riders and newbies alike on their common goal, to complete all five passes of Death Ride. When asked what is needed for the minimum training he said, “you need to be on a bike at least six to seven hours per week average for ten weeks. And at least two weeks before the event you need to do at least ¾ of the distance and ¾ of the climbing. You also need to know how the steepness feels.”

Rod said that descending is the most important skill and to know how to use your brakes. That is where people get hurt. “Learn to feather the brakes. Don’t overheat the wheels, overheating the wheels can puncture the tubes.” He suggests going to a skills clinic before Death Ride and to ride with someone who can coach you on a downhill. Rod takes safety and training very seriously. A few years ago, he witnessed the tragic death of a woman that crashed on the backside of Monitor. Last, year a friend was blown off his bike by the wind on Carson. He slid down on his back, losing skin and teeth. He was going 50 miles per hour. Rod says, “So with the wind and descending, just get with a coach that’s done it before to help you get downhill.”

Regarding fuel and hydration, Rod says not to eat to lose weight right before Death Ride. Eat healthy all week, get in lots of carbs and proteins. Rod personally loves Osmo preload the night before the ride and the next morning. Kristy reminded, not to try anything new the day of Death Ride. Training is where you want to try new supplements and gear.

When it comes to gear Rod couldn’t stress layers enough. He suggests a wind jacket, arm warmers and light items you can shed. “It is usually cold in the morning and at the tops. Then, you’ll sweat on the climbs,” he says. He went on to advise, “We never stop at the top, because you’re warm from the climb. So, if you stop, you get cold then you descend cold.”

Lastly, if you start to feel your mental motivation draining, ask yourself, ‘why are you here?’ and ‘why are you doing this?’ Usually, poor mental attitude comes into play because you are low on sugar or dehydrated. Stay ahead of your hunger and thirst. But remind yourself, you’ve made the decision to do it, and you’re already here. You might as well finish.’

Description of the event:

I was limited in my ability to train for Death Ride. I could only train every other weekend when I didn’t have my daughter. Even with hubris such as mine, I knew better than to ride on streets by myself. I was in a unique position. Most people who sign up for Death Ride are experienced riders. Experienced riders are too fast to ride with someone like me for distances of 100 miles. It takes me about 10 hours to do 100 miles. It takes them 5-7.  People who are new to riding do not want to do distances that long. So, I went on Facebook, and I begged and pleaded to anyone who would take me out to ride distance and climbing until I found people to ride with me. I also signed up for a lot of organized rides. I did the Wildcat 125 (about 125 miles and 7700 feet of climbing). I did the Sierra Century which was 122 miles and 9600 feet of climbing, and I did Hell Hole. Hell Hole is 100 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing. It is arguably more challenging than Death Ride. After Hell Hole, any mental inclination that my body could not endure Death Ride had left me. The issue was the timing. I could climb, but I was still slow. Climbing and speed are different muscles; I only had time to focus on climbing. I carefully studied the elevation map in regards to my speed on similar rides. I allotted 5mph for uphill, 20 mph for downhill and 10 for the rare flat. To ensure I would finish on time I started at 4:30 am. Since Death Ride is a ride and not a race, you can start pretty much as early as you want. There were several people on the road at 4:30 am. I gave myself less than 5 minutes at rest stops, to account for how slow I ride.

The first climb was Monitor. With all my training and adrenaline, I took the first pass of Monitor down like it was my bitch. Sticker one. I finished the backside of Monitor with similar gusto. Sticker 2. I was warned Ebbets is the steepest and most challenging. I scoffed. I was on fire. Two stickers down and I was way ahead on time. I was making my way up Ebbets, actually thinking to myself, “Death Ride is sooo overrated.” Then Ebbets hit me in the face and let me know I was an idiot for underestimating her. After a false show of ease, Ebbets suddenly looked vertical. I was looking straight up at the path I needed to take. I held my composure for a few miles but the pain set in. I take a supplement to help ease leg cramps, but no pill was strong enough to override this level of intensity. I made it up and over Ebbets. My most frightening moment downhill was as I was passing a rider who was on my right I heard a woman out of control frantically yelling at me to go right. I couldn’t go right; it was packed with other riders. She couldn’t go left as it was filled with riders coming uphill.  The uphill riders saw her peril and made room for her to come into their lane— but my takeaway is don’t get too full of yourself and go so fast that you put other riders at risk. The uphill on the back face of Ebbets is where I started to break down. I was slowing down and losing time. Also, the ache of so much steep uphill was hitting me hard. I started crying from the pain.

After Ebbets, I ate lunch. I rushed through the meal, as I had a large climb and with my slow speed I knew I needed to get going. I began the stretch that was the most mentally draining, the straightaway past my car. For me, endurance is more mental than physical. I know my brain will quit on me long before my body. At that moment, my brain almost gave out. I looked at the parking lot that held my car, and I said to myself, “Breathe and move forward and you will have no choice but to finish.”  I knew myself well enough to know that I would not recover emotionally from the failure of a DNF. I set out to complete five passes, and I was going to finish five passes.

I pushed forward towards my last ascend, about 20 miles up. It is 10 miles uphill just to get to the 10-mile climb that is Carson. I had been riding since 4:30 am. My only focus was moving. I stopped at the last rest stop on this stretch to grab some more fuel. I attempted to clip back in and get going, but my legs were so weak that I physically couldn’t get the momentum to push forward on my bike. At this point, another rider saw my failed attempts, like a baby deer trying to walk, my legs did not have the strength to push off. He came over to me and held my bike upright and gave me a soft push. I gave a thank you wave, too scared to gesture too much as I might fall over.

The final climb up Carson was mentally brutal as I had convinced myself I was running behind schedule and might not make the cutoff time. A rider I didn’t know rode up next to me and was sporting a jersey from the Phoenix group (Rod’s cycling team) that allowed me to train with them. I called him out, and he saw the distress on my face. He took pity on me and motivated me the entire way up that hill. He told me about his previous experiences doing Death Ride, he told me about his wife and kids and helped me focus on anything but quitting.

As I turned the corner and saw the tent, I knew I was there. Everyone who told me I was ‘crazy’ for doing this, the people who supported me, wouldn’t me let down. The emotions mixed with the exhaustion and hysterical tears of joy poured from my body. I clocked a finish time of 6:36 pm. Fourteen hours later. The final descent back to my car was grueling but filled with elation. That night I slept very well.

Questions to ask yourself:

-How many passes are you setting out to complete? Not everyone does Death Ride with the intentions to complete all five passes. A friend of mine set out just to do the front faces of all three mountains; others just do monitor.  Remember, for Death Ride, there are two different jerseys, the Death Ride jersey any participant of the ride can purchase and then there is the five-pass finisher jersey. You cannot order the five pass jersey until after the ride. You must obtain a sticker at all five stations after the completion of a pass. Then, you either order your jersey at the end of the race or you mail in a photocopy of your bib with all the stickers. 3,290 people signed up for Death Ride in 2016, 1,556 completed all five passes. Of the total number of riders, only 372 were women, 207 of which completed five passes. These statistics aren’t meant to intimidate, just to make you aware of the level of commitment this ride entails.

-How much time do you have to invest in training? Never ride on the streets without experience. Never ride on the streets alone, always ride in a pack. The best place to find Death Ride training groups is online through meetup.com or your local bike shop. If you can’t find a training group then sign up for organized rides. I did the Sierra Century, Chico Wildflower and Hell Hole. I also did the Alta Alpina.

-How does your body respond to various fuel and hydration plans? Fuel and hydration needs are different for everyone. You will need to find what works best for your body. I start carb loading about four days before an event like this and also hydrating with electrolytes four days prior as well. I make sure I am peeing clear and that my carb stores are full. Not everyone responds to this plan. I hear some people say carb loading weighs them down or simply does not work for them. A coach or trainer that specializes in endurance cycling can help you come up with a program to meet your needs.

What do you need:

-Road Bike

-Fuel, water. I ran out of water part way through luckily another rider filled me up from his spare bottle. That was stupid on my part. Don’t make my mistakes. You will need a fuel plan. Don’t try new supplements or foods the day of the ride. Be sure that if you are going to experiment you do it during training. 129 miles is a long way to realize you ate something that doesn’t agree with you.

– Gloves-your hands will be a wreck without them.

-Lights- if you start early in the dark these are a necessity. It also makes you more visible to cars.

– Sunglasses (prescription if needed), sunscreen.

– Layers are essential. I started out freezing and ended sweating. Be sure you take into account the weather can change drastically.

-Helmet-you will be laughed out of the event before you even begin if you attempt this without a helmet.

-Training- Lots of training. Do you know how to descend in the rain or high winds? Are you able to ride in a group with lots of other riders? A coach is an excellent resource and highly recommended. If you do not have a coach, you will need a mentor or experienced riding group to guide you through safe riding.

Death Ride is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. I take immense pride in having completed something so difficult. If Death Ride is on your bucket list, remember what I told you, “breathe and move forward and you will have no choice but to finish.”




Spin Class for Fitness

My experience:

A disclaimer about me, I have horrible social anxiety. Now is as good time as any to confess. When it comes to social settings, it can be sheer force of will that pulls me through. Parties, dinners and even group fitness can cause my inner gears to go into overload. My first spin class began like any other group fitness experience. The first 20-minutes I look around, realizing that everyone else knows someone else, that evolves into my realization that I am not aware of the slang (what the hell does she mean, ‘rise and shine?’). I fight off thoughts of negative self-talk, and I stick it out. I got through it, and now I love spin class. I dedicated myself to spin to work on advancing my training for Death Ride but continue attending for the mix of cardio and the strength training that it provides.

I recently participated in a spin class at Phoenix Cycling Systems run and operated by Rod and Kristy Halbert. The room instantly greeted me with a lighthearted ease. Kristy had my bike set up and ready to go and the packed room was welcoming, as opposed to intimidating. Rod jumped into the class with a playful introduction of the newbies (myself included). During the class, he took us through various zones of intensity. Each person has zones unique to their age/weight. It was the most fun I have ever had in a group class. The entire class was cheering each other on and tested their vocal limits when everyone sang along to ‘I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction).’ The hour flew by as Rod expertly motivated us to push our limits.

In the offseason, I try to take a spin class once or twice a week. If I am training, I can take spin 4-5 times a week. It depends on what goals I am trying to achieve at the time.

Talk with a Master:

Rod Halbert is a Level 2 USA cycling coach and owns and operates Phoenix Cycling Systems with his wife, Kristy. He said, “We work on HIIT (high-intensity interval training) efforts, and we work the zones of power training.” He said that his class helps with becoming a better outdoor cyclist because they work on climbing and things that happen on the road.  He was careful to select spin bikes that resemble road bikes.

He told me how his class helps with weight loss. He mentioned a man in his class that lost 88lbs. Rod would personally call him and motivate him to come into class. “He was nervous about being overweight. He went from barely able to finish a class to being proficient on a road bike.”  He said he was sure to tailor a program to the unique goals of not only that man but for everyone who takes his classes.

To reduce the risk of a plateau when losing weight, Rod switches up his class styles. He says to find the class that is right for you to ask yourself what you are looking for from the class. If you are an outdoor rider, then classes that dance on the bike may not be for you. If you just want to lose weight, then a class like that may be a good fit. Ask, “What are the classes like? Do they cater to the cyclist? Do they cater to the everyday person?”

If you are nervous going to class, he suggests to go in the back row and request your numbers are private (if it is a class that puts everyone’s numbers on a big screen), get to know people. Most importantly, bring a friend to help you feel more comfortable until you get the hang of the class.


A great spin class is going to have a small computer screen on the bike. The screen should tell you several details, including how fast you are going, your rpms and your watts. Your instructor should go over this with you before class and help you utilize this information. Try to be about 15 minutes early to your first spin class. You will need time to get fitted on your bike and have a heart rate monitor linked up if the class allows. Ask your instructor what terms you need to know and to explain the monitor on your bike. Be sure to call ahead before your first class. More and more classes are requiring that you reserve your bike online in advance.

When cycling to lose, or maintain weight it is important to remember, cycling can help you focus on both cardio and build muscle, but you have to do it right. When working on your speed training, you will find it easy to get your heart rate up. I suggest getting a heart rate monitor and learning your target heart rate zones. In doing this, you will be able to set goals more accurately to fit your individual needs. The other area in which cycling can help you focus on muscle. You are going to get that from climbing. Pushing gear in spin class can contribute to building your climbing muscles for when you are out on the road. Training for Death Ride, my legs got rock solid in a way that nothing else could do for me. When I am focusing on climbing, I note that even though I am going at a much slower pace, my heart rate is still elevated. My biggest downfall as a cyclist is I am one sided and only focus on climbing. Because of this, I am slow. Spin class helps enhance my outdoor training and is getting me faster

I do the bulk of my core work off the bike. I have found that, for me, everything I do comes from my core. Having a strong core helps increase my proficiency as an athlete. Every cyclist I have spoken to tells me that cycling is great for the core. Maybe I am doing it wrong, but I don’t feel it. Because of that, I am sure to have a solid core routine off of the bike.

When climbing, it is tempting to hunch over. Remember, hinge at your hips, NOT your waist. Keep your shoulders relaxed. I used to get horrible back pain from riding. I was told you periodically wiggle my fingers to relax my hands and shoulders. Working on my posture helped greatly. The spin class will help you with posture on the road and will also help with that important pedal stroke. An efficient pedal stroke is the key to cycling success.

What you need:

-Clips-If you want to get serious about cycling, you will need to learn to clip-in. Spin class is a good way to get a feel for clips before ever hitting the bike trails. Clipping-in works different leg muscles. You pull up as well as push down. To-Date I still use mountain bike clips on my road bike and in spin class.

-Heart Rate Monitor- It is important to learn your max heart rate and your heart rate zones. You will spend the bulk of your time in the fat burning zone. A spin class will give you a good feel for how much time you need to spend in each of the target heart rate zones.

Of course, you will also need the basics from my first blog in the cycling series

What you don’t need:

-Your own saddle in spin class. Look, if it is the difference between going to spin or not— then bring the saddle, but if you are of a typical fitness and health level, I suggest you suck it up buttercup and go through the same process we all did. It will get easier.

I hope to see you in a spin class soon! Now get out there and make every day an adventure!



Road Bike 101

Road Bike 101

When I first started cycling, it began as a means to complete a triathlon. I didn’t feel passionate about cycling. I had a goal in mind and cycling was a tool to achieve that goal. Over time cycling became one of my biggest loves, but it was a journey for me to get there. When I purchased my first road bike, my knowledge of cycling was limited to the generic mountain bike I owned in elementary school. I knew nothing about what I needed regarding buying a bike.  A young woman that lived near me offered to let me try out her bike to make sure I liked riding before I went out and bought a bike of my own.

Here is that humbling story: I had no idea what I was doing. I had heard there were several different kinds of bikes, but the meaning of that didn’t resonate with me at the time. I assumed ‘a bike is a bike.’ I told her I wanted to train for triathlons; she loaned me her huge beach cruiser with three gears. I gladly accepted. I took the bike out on city streets. I live in an area surrounded by steep hills. I attempted (with ZERO training) to take that huge beach cruiser on the city street (that did not have a bike lane) and up the biggest hill in my area. How I survived to 35, I have no idea. I had to walk the bike up the hill, then down the hill, then back home.

I decided I needed to talk to someone who knew about cycling and buying the right bike. I went to a bike shop. I was very clear my goals were a triathlon and Death Ride; I was told a hybrid was what I needed. I dropped the cash and was ready to ride off into the sunset with my new bike. Luckily a friend clarified that I needed a road bike. I was able to make an exchange (I am glad I purchased from a bike shop with a liberal return policy), and I got my road bike. As far as road bikes go, mine is considered cheap. It is about $600 and has an aluminum frame. I am delighted with Vixen (aka my road bike) and she got me through two triathlons and Death Ride.

Though cycling began as a means to complete a goal; I have grown to love cycling. I love taking my bike up in the mountains. As my legs burn and my heart pounds, I will often look in the valley of a big climb and admire views that make me feel alive.

Talk with a Master:

Rod Halbert has been riding for 25-30 years. He is currently a cycling coach and owns the cycling studio, Phoenix Cycling Systems in Loomis, California. “Cycling is a metaphor for life. There are ups and downs, some days it is easy, others it’s difficult, and there are climbs that feel like they take forever.”

His advice for people just starting out is, “If you have never clipped-in come to (spin) class and try to clip-in. See how you like it. Mountain Bike clips are best for beginner riders. The shoes are easily walkable and easier to get in and out of. Take time to learn how to keep your pedal stroke in a nice, smooth, circular motion. Take your spin shoes to the shop and have them match them to the right pedals.”

When asked about how to pick the right bike, Rod responded, “You don’t need carbon fiber. Make sure you’re serious and perhaps spend a little more, so it (your bike) lasts longer. The size and fit are the most important thing. Don’t get a good deal that’s the wrong fit. Most people’s first bike doesn’t fit them. “

Rod also had advice for riding in a group, “Leaves and white lines can be like glass. Try to avoid them. New riders are unpredictable. Make sure your moves are smooth and gentle. If you are going to make a dramatic move, tell people. Before you ride with a new group, discuss stop signs (full stop or slow) and ask how they communicate. When you are coming up on a car on a side road always get eye contact. Make sure they are looking at you.”


What you need to know:

When buying a bike, ask yourself why are you doing this? What is your ultimate goal? My goal was to complete a triathlon. At the time, I thought a hybrid bike would meet my needs. I assumed it was the best of both worlds, mountain and road bike all rolled into one. Why would any idiot need two bikes when one hybrid can do everything? I was wrong and very blessed I purchased from a bike shop that allowed returns. A hybrid is too heavy to ride more than 50 miles with any real climbing. (That is my personal opinion. And we all have a friend of a friend that did a triathlon on a mountain bike—unless you are that friend— get a road bike). Hybrids are great if you just want a casual fitness bike. The average person will not be able to keep up on a hybrid if their friends are climbing 1000 feet per 10 miles nor will they be able to traverse the terrain on a mountain bike. Hybrids do have their place and are useful for the novice rider.

A road bike is more lightweight and meant only for paved surfaces. Some bike shops have stringent return policies, whereas others will let you ride the bike for a few weeks and then return. Ask questions before you buy.

Check out meetup.com or facebook groups in your area to find organized rides. Many local bike shops host weekly organized rides. Call your local bike shops for more details. Be honest when signing up for a ride. Ask if it is a no drop ride. I once signed up for a 100-mile ride with a group of expert riders. I was left behind in the parking lot trying to clip-in (not my finest moment).  You don’t want to be 20-miles into a ride and make the group wait on you, or even worse get lost. Ask if the ride is on the street or a bike path. If it is on the street, let them know you are a novice and will need someone to go over the rules of the road. I suggest a first ride with a friend on a bike path. This training ride will help you learn your ability with distance and pace. When I look for a group ride, I let the organizer know I ride 50 miles, flat (meaning no elevation/climbing) at 15 mph. They can tell me based on that information if I am a good fit for the ride.




What do you need:

-A bike. Shop around. LEARN ABOUT THE BRAKES! Disc brakes are relatively new to road bikes, and pros have strong opinions on brakes. For a road bike, I like my caliper brakes. They are the most common brakes on road bikes today. My bike has an aluminum frame. If a carbon frame is in your budget—go for it. I was a total beginner and held my own in triathlons and Death Ride (129 miles and over 15k climbing) with my aluminum frame.

-Water bottle and cage for the water bottle.

-Bike shorts-I wish someone would have told me about bike shorts before I went into the store. I thought they were just like the skin-tight shorts from the 80’s. They are not. They have a chamois pad to protect your sensitive parts. I can be a bit modest, so I was very put off buying shorts that felt like they had a diaper sewn in. I thought I wanted the most modest and thinnest pad available. I was wrong. Get over it. All cyclists wear them. You do not wear underwear under your shorts (chafing). You will also want chamois cream. The seat can get very uncomfortable, and you do not want to have to call a long ride short because you went out unprepared for the discomfort of the seat (aka saddle).


-Clips. I didn’t even know clipping-in was a thing when I bought my bike. I knew I had big goals with that bike, and I did not want to learn my bike THEN learn clipping-in. So, I went for it. I went with mountain bike clips instead of road bike clips. They are a bit easier to get in and out and you can clip-in from both sides of the pedal. Road bike clips only clip on one side of the pedal, but they have a bit more surface area which helps with a bit more power. If you want to be considered a serious cyclist, you must learn to clip-in. Different muscles are used when clipped-in. You push down as well as pull up on the pedal. The bike store should be able to put the pedals on for you and put the clips on your shoes. I went to an empty school playground and got next to the wall and clipped in and out. YOU WILL FALL, IT WILL SUCK, get back on your bike and keep going.

-Small repair kit.

-Lights. If you plan on going on the road, you must learn proper etiquette. In many places, you can get ticketed just like a car. Riding alone is not a good idea. Cars are much less likely to see a single rider. Someone once said to me, “What do you call a cyclist who thinks cars are paying attention? Dead” Get good on the bike before you consider going on the road. And when you do, be lit up and visible.

-Helmet.  A must. Have the salesperson at the bike store fit you properly. If your helmet is in an accident and still looks intact— throw it out. It is considered compromised. Rod suggests anything with the MIPS system.

-Bike rack. You can usually find a cheap one on Craigslist. I prefer the hitch mount bike rack. I started with an arm bike rack that went over the trunk of my sedan, and it worked fine as well. Learn your bike rack and secure your bike well. If your bike falls off and causes an accident, you could be held responsible.

-Bike lock.

-Gloves. I am the only cyclist I know that rarely wears gloves. They pinch in between my fingers. When I do wear gloves, I make sure I am buying them from a place with a liberal exchange policy. When you are riding for 5 hours, you will be very aware where they pinch and where they put too much pressure. Buy an inexpensive pair and learn what you need before upgrading.

-Pepper spray- if it is legal in your area. It took being chased by one dog, one time before I realized I need pepper spray.


What you don’t need…yet

-An upgraded saddle. Everyone gets hit differently by the saddle, so you do not know what you need until you have ridden. Most bike shops will have a demo saddle they can loan you to try out first.

-Apparel. Wait before buying the jersey. A tee-shirt is fine. If you are going to join a club, you will want their jersey. If you do organized rides, jerseys will be for sale. I often ride in a tank top. You do not need a jersey right out of the gate.

-Paneer. The basket. I have a big paneer on my bike. I have been told this makes me less of a cyclist. I did Death Ride with that big paneer, so it stays. It holds my phone and my snacks. Wait to buy one until you learn your needs as a rider.

-GPS. You will see riders, myself included, playing with their Garmin’s before and after a ride. Before you invest in a Garmin, try using apps like Strava and Ride with GPS. For my first year, I found that they tracked my rides with everything I needed.


The most important thing is to get out there and have fun! Cycling will make you feel like a kid again!


Camping with Kids

My Story:

The move to Northern California awoke within me a passion for the outdoors I never knew existed. I recall my first trip to Tahoe, the roads winding up through the mountains and my head out the window like a dog on the way to the park. I was in love. My new church had a camping group, and I remember standing at the kiosk after services as the leader of Bayside Adventure Sports told me about the fun, fellowship and communion with nature. At the time, it seemed like the empowering setting I was seeking.

I stood in Wal-mart looking at the various tents and sleeping bags, my preschooler pulling on my arm. She can’t handle 20 minutes in Wal-mart I thought to myself, how am I going to handle three days without SpongeBob to save me from her mood swings. I left Walmart overwhelmed and empty-handed.

The next day I searched online for what I should bring. I ran into extensive lists that included survival knives that could kill a bear and first-aid kits that could replace an ER. I pulled up Google maps. My campsite was less than 20 minutes from several restaurants and less than 15 minutes from a large grocery store. I am a single mom on a budget, and though it was tempting to purchase the travel trailer complete with a refrigerator I just wanted to know three things, what do I need, what do I want and what is being marketed to me that I do not need.

After talking to several people and figuring out some basics my little and I were ready to go. I watched in awe at how natural it was for my child, (frequently surrounded by electronic screens and plastic toys while constantly complaining of boredom) to be in nature. I put my phone away and watched my daughter and her new friends play with dirt, rocks, and sticks for hours until dinner time. The next day at the lake we arrived at 9 am, she happily played in the sand until we went home at 5. That night she escaped her sleeping bag and crawled into mine. She cuddled into me, and I held my child as we slept. In a house surrounded by ‘things to do,’ my child and I are more entertained by the wonders of nature. Some of my favorite moments as a mother are camping with my kid. I watch the girl I treat as oh so fragile, scale rocks, climb trees and roll in the dirt. I see her as more independent and capable. I fall in love with my child more and more every day but there is something about camping with her that also makes me fall in love with being her mother.

 A talk with a Master:

Erik Allen and his wife are lifelong campers. Erik works for a local camping ministry. He has guided several campers (including myself) on their first trip into the wilderness. He said, “A cool thing someone once told me in relation to bringing kids and doing things as a family in general” Start small, short, easy and often. As they get older, or when you decide to do a big trip, it won’t be such a shock. It will become just something that you do.”

Erik is a self-proclaimed ‘gear lover.’ He told me that you want to be sure to have insulation between the ground and yourself. He bought a cheap foam pad at Walmart for each member of his family to help keep warm at night. The pad goes under your sleeping bag. He told me he likes this better than an air mattress alone because ‘an air mattress doesn’t have insulating properties.’ He went on to say, ‘I love my 2-burner camping stove’. He suggests bringing pots and pans from home before investing in a camping set.

He wanted to impress the importance of camp etiquette. He told me once he was camping and his youngest was crying at night. They put on the portable DVD at 2 am and watched cartoons with him. He laughed and said he couldn’t believe he was watching TV at 2 am in a tent. But whatever works. People will understand when your kids are crying, but you still need to be respectful if they won’t stop. He suggested taking them for a car ride.

 Questions to ask yourself:

-Why are you camping? If you just want to try something new vs. you want to immerse yourself in nature be sure to take that into consideration. The joy of camping in Sugar Pine, Lake Tahoe is there is a grocery store 20 minutes away. In fact, not just a grocery store but also a casino, hotel, movie theater and anything else you could want. It is amazing to wake up in a tent and hike down the lake and back then drive to breakfast at Denny’s. You feel immersed but not isolated. If you are looking for an in-depth immersion into nature, perhaps backpacking is more up your alley. Just make sure you research local wildlife and necessary permits if any.

-Who are you camping with? For first-timers, I highly suggest linking up a group. I am lucky enough that my church started Bayside Adventure Sports. They do all the legwork and have a great staff to help with gear, and they even have gear they loan out if you want to try before you buy. Another great option is joining a meetup group. Check meetup.com to see if there is a camping group in your area. There you can look for locals that already know the area and perhaps are willing to let you join up on one of their trips. If you can’t get a group of friends do some research on popular places to camp in your area. Ask for a more populated area, so you are not isolated if you have questions.

-What is your fitness level? Are you interested in biking, hiking, kayaking? Be realistic. I have been on hikes with people that get in over their heads. You may drive up a mountain to get to your campsite and go on a downhill hike. Remember that you have to go back up that hill to get back to your tent.

-Is the site safe for kids? Camping right on the water is a romantic idea if you aren’t going to have to worry about your child running into the lake the entire time.  My favorite campsites are near the water but not right on the beach when camping with the kids.

Questions to ask others:

Make sure your desired lodging is accommodated. If you are bringing an RV or travel trailer, be aware some campsites may not have the required hookups.

At many National parks, you may need to book six months in advance as spots are in high demand. About 50% of campsites are first come first serve. If possible, scout out sites in advance. Go by yourself and note what site best serves your needs. (IE away from the dumpsters is nice, but also walking distance to bathrooms is a big plus). There is almost always an info board or kiosk with how to make reservations posted at the entrance to the park. It is always good to do a scouting trip.

Ask if there are toilets and showers and what your proximity will be?

Are there any rules unique to your campsite (i.e. regarding wildlife, alcohol, pets, etc.). Do not assume your pet will be allowed at the campground. Also, many campsites require the use of bear boxes. You will want to know the dimensions of the bear box before you arrive. My first time camping I brought an oversized cooler that would not fit in the bear box. It was a huge inconvenience to leave the campsite to drive to the store to find a smaller cooler. Call the site ahead of time tell the ranger station that you are a first-time camper and would simply like to know of anything they want to say to you in advance. The staff at the campsite is a great resource. They want you to be prepared. Be considerate and learn the rules.

Another helpful tip, clean and vacuum your car before you camp. Bears have very sensitive noses. Every season bears destroy cars trying to get in when they smell food.


What Gear should you get?


If you can borrow a tent for your first-time camping, then do so. If you are going to buy a tent, then I suggest splurge on the pop-up tent. It may cost a little more, but you will be glad you did so when you see others around you wrestling with those annoying little poles. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, SET THE TENT UP BEFORE YOU GO. You do not want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere and have the profound realization you are unable to set up your tent.


Sleeping bag or air mattress AND a pad. (If you require a pump for the air mattress I suggest a foot pump as many campsites do not have an outlet for the electric pump). There are many sleeping bags out there. I camp in the summer usually at places like Tahoe. I have a $30 sleeping bag from Walmart, and it works great. Extreme temperatures or backpacking will require specialized sleeping bags.

LAYERS! I have camped Tahoe, Santa Cruz, Yosemite and Burning Man. Being outside you feel the fluctuations in temperature. I love baggy yoga pants over my shorts. Zip up hoodies help that transition from morning cold to afternoon heat. Erik noted that people often get holes burned into nice coats from a stray campfire spark. Be aware that fleece will melt. So around a campfire, he likes to stick with flannel and jeans.

Trash Bags!

GLOWSTICKS!!!- at night kids like to run around. I cover my child in glowsticks. So I can always spot her quickly in the mess of playing children.

Toys- Nerf football, Frisbee, if you are brave a slingshot (hey where else can they use one). My daughter has a big toy dump truck that is a camping favorite. She loads it up with dirt for hours

Cooking Stove. I have a small tailgate stove. It works great. But if you plan you can get away without cooking. Sandwiches, Lunchables (DIY or store bought) as well as prepackaged breakfast can save time and space. If you do want to cook, even a jet boiler can help you with premade stews and save on space.

Never forget a can opener.

Flashlights or lanterns

baby wipes (wipe down hands, face, surfaces)



When camping with kids I like do as much as I can ahead of time. My friend is a master at finding little cheats to save time during meals. He pre-scrambles his eggs and has most everything chopped and ready before he leaves the house. I have taken note, and one of my easy camping dishes is below.

Canned Tacos:

1 can black beans drained

1 can corn kernels drained

1 can rotell tomatoes

1 package taco seasoning

Mix ahead of time and put in a plastic container in your cooler.

Bring tortillas and shredded cheese. Simply heat up the taco mix and serve. Simple and quick.


Picture Frame Craft:

I love this because it is simple and allows the kids to create a keepsake from the trip.

In advance, you only need to buy some craft popsicle sticks and wood glue.

Have the kids glue the sticks in a square to create a picture frame. They can then use the glue to decorate the frame with rocks, shells, sticks, leaves, whatever they find meaningful to them.

I like to take fun pics and selfies and later glue them to the inside of the frame. Add magnets when you get home to put it on the refrigerator.